t is impossible to discuss the War Between the States without discussing the institution of slavery. It is also impossible to adequately cover that topic in one page of ten point type. What follows, therefore, is an overview. The reader is exhorted not to simply react to what follows, but to study the subject in depth using the numerous sources which more broadly address the issue.
It is commonly believed that slavery was the cause of the conflict between the North and the South. While the abolitionists, having won the war, focus almost exclusively on the aspect of slavery, it was merely the most prominent occasion of the fight. The root of the problem was much more fundamental, dealing with the relationship between the several states, and the relationship between the states and the federal government. The question was whether the states were indissolubly bound to each other by the formation of the United States, no longer individual entities but parts of a larger union; or whether they were independent, sovereign governments, constitutionally united together in a confederacy for certain limited purposes, which could withdraw from that alliance at any time it became necessary or expedient. The North took the former view, the South held to the latter. When the North tried, through the federal government, to encroach on the sovereignty of the Southern states, those states seceded from (as opposed to rebelled against) the United States of America. The encroachment, however, was of a much broader economic and political scope than is encompassed by the question of whether states were to be slave or free.
Nevertheless, slavery has been the focal point of the historical study of the war, one outcome of which was the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, expressly forbidding involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime. Since the abolition of slavery was allegedly based on biblical principles, it is necessary to examine slavery biblically, to determine the merit of the abolitionists' case. Nowhere in the Bible, however, is slavery abolished as an institution or spoken of as evil per se. What the Bible does say about slavery reveals it to be a blessing or a curse, as well as a practice ordained and regulated by God.
The following passage is instructive. "I am Abraham's servant. The LORD has blessed my master greatly, and he has become great; and He has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys." (Gen. 24:34-35). The inspired and inerrant Word of God declares that Abraham has been given slaves by God as a blessing. It is one of those slaves who makes this declaration. The same is said of Isaac when he began to prosper (Gen. 26:12-14). It is impossible to maintain that slavery is evil on a biblical basis in light of these verses.
While the possession of slaves is a blessing, Scripture also makes it clear that slavery is not the ideal state of redeemed man. One of the regulations God imposed was that an Israelite could not own one of his brethren as a slave, but only as a hired servant. Slaves were to be taken from non-Israelite peoples. (Lev. 25:39-46). But note the reason for this regulation. "For they are My servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves" (Lev. 25:42). The Israelites already had a master, God, who had purchased them for himself. The same argument is made by Paul when he encourages Christian slaves to gain their freedom if given the chance, and Christian freemen not to become slaves (1 Cor. 7:20-23).
The Bible also speaks of slavery as a curse. The sons of Jacob feared they would be punished with slavery when they found Joseph's money in their sacks (Gen. 43:18). The Gibeonites were made slaves for their deception of Israel (Josh. 9:3-27). God identified Himself to Israel as the one who rescued them from slavery in Egypt (Lev. 26:13; Deu. 5:6, 6:20-21). The widow whom Elisha helped feared the creditors who were coming to enslave her two sons (2 Kings 4:1). God was gracious to the Israelites when he providentially brought them out of slavery so that they could rebuild Jerusalem (Ezra 9:9). But the fact that slavery was a curse did not mean it was necessarily oppressive. Slaves such as Joseph, Daniel, and Abraham's "oldest servant" (Gen. 24) were blessed mightily in their positions. Provision was made in the law for a Hebrew servant to remain with his master forever if he loved him (Ex. 21:5). Thus, while slavery is not the ideal state of man, it is certainly not the worst.
One of the "arguments" used by the abolitionists was that some masters abused their slaves. Uncle Tom's Cabin was a catalogue of wrongs done to Southern slaves, and it was touted as reflecting the normal state of affairs. But this was not the norm, anymore than publishing the police blotter reflects that all citizens are criminals. Furthermore, the abuses of an institution do not prove the institution is inherently evil. Wicked men abuse their wives. That is not a reason to abolish marriage. A slave owner who treats his slaves according to the biblical mandate is a blessing to his charges. Examples of such masters abounded in the South, as well as in Scripture, but they were ignored.
Finally, the allegedly Christian abolitionists were not only wrong in their reasoning, they were actually guilty of encouraging sin. Paul exhorted slaves to love their masters and serve them obediently, for this was pleasing to God (Eph. 6:5-8; Col. 3:22-24). Rather than encouraging slaves to be obedient and content in their position as the Bible instructs, professing Christians were fomenting rebellion.
It will be easy to set down this article and react with disgust and disbelief that anyone could say such things in the 1990's.
Slavery, however, like any other topic, must be approached via the Scriptures, and not through the spirit of the age.